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Review: The Pigman by Paul Zindel

in a sentence: A young woman and a young man prank call an old lonely man, and form an unlikely and somewhat unhealthy friendship.

John and Lorraine are two students who hate school, have less than desirable family lives, and few friends outside of each other. Their relationship with Angelo Pignati - known as the Pigman - begins with a prank call made by Lorraine during one of their after school games. They notice the desperation in the Pigman, and are drawn to spend time with him. Over time, they receive many blessings from the relationship in the form of food, gifts, acceptance, laughter, and freedom. John and Lorraine throw it all away by having a huge party in the Pigman's absence, and sever their beautiful relationship forever. The Pigman's death is soon thereafter, and they place the blame on themselves. They know what a unique relationship was forged, and set to write this novel in order to share with the world their experience with Angelo Pignati.

The narrator switches between Lorraine and John each chapter, which provides an interesting point of view. This allows the reader to see the other lead character through someone else's eyes other than their own, and lets us peek into the family life of the narrator. There is no great detail put into the families, which I believe is intentional. Young adults reading this book can identify with the parents presented in the novel, whether it is their own or a friends parent, and don't need to know the specifics of their situation to recognize the parent and their reactions. This is very respectful of the author towards the young adult readers. The changing relationship between John and Lorraine, while obvious to the reader, is subtle and barely touched on in the novel in order to keep the main focus on their relationship with the Pigman. The plot of the novel creates high emotions in the reader, while carrying on in a pace that creates a depth in the relationship and actions of characters in the novel. The reader is at times frustrated with John and Lorraine, but can't help and feel sorry for them too for wanting a safe haven to be cared for unconditionally. The novel is tragic, but there is light with their relationship with the Pigman. There are serious emotions in here, which all young adults are familiar with and will find true to their experience. The author creates a novel with authentic characters that young adults can relate to and respect, despite their poor choices.

Title: The Piman
Author: Paul Zindel
Genre: Coming of Age, Classic
Publisher: HarperTeen
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Review: Shattering Glass by Gail Giles

in a sentence: A classic high school "geek to chic" story, with a lethal twist.

This clever story follows the lives of 4 boys and their goal to transform the class nerd to Mr. Popular. They are led by a charismatic and irresistible friend, with many secrets. The story is narrated from the point of view of the best friend of the leader, Young, and takes place at a private high school in Texas. The kids are wealthy (for the most part), the parents are disinterested (for the most part), and there are plenty of opportunities for things to get out of control. The story is suspenseful and all of the characters are easy to relate to on some level with the reader. This book speaks to the high school experience, if not with the dramatic playing out of the events, then with the struggles of 'leaders and followers' in cliques. The reader can feel the frustration, the irritation, and the tensions mounting throughout the novel. The discomfort and frustration are immediate within the reader with the opening paragraph of "Simon Glass was easy to hate. I never knew exactly why, there was too much to pick from. I guess, really, we each hated him for a different reason, but we didn't realize it until the day we killed him" (Pg. 1).

This was an amazing story. The young adult reader will immediately connect with at least one of the four popular-yet-flawed male leads, the nerd, or the caring girlfriend on the outer circle. There is a character in here for everyone to relate to. It was an interesting choice for the author to choose the best friend of the leader, Rob, to narrate the novel. While the other boys' reasons for being popular are obvious to us, because we are from the narrators point of view, we don't really know why he's popular. The dialog exchanged between the teen characters is real, the leisure activities seem so natural, and the brief yet vivid descriptions of scenes draws the reader in to what may already be familiar territory of school, friends houses, and parties. It was especially interesting how the author chose a quote from a character to start off each chapter from five years in the future. It is revealed slowly through these what to expect, what the final result is, and what happens to them. It serves as an epilogue of sorts while developing the plot along. I was very close to nominating this novel, but I felt that while this was a really good read with a great story, it just shy of the award level. Parts of the characters came off as predictable and hokey, but only briefly. However, young adult readers can sense a hokey character from a mile away, and that might kick them out of parts of the story. Despite it's minor flaws, this is still an outstanding work of literature for young adults.

Title: Shattering Glass
Author: Gail Giles
Genre: Edgy/Problem Novel, Lisa's Faves
Publisher: Simon Pulse
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Review: Keesha's House by Helen Frost

in a sentence: A poetic journey through the challenging lives of 7 teenagers.

Coming from a non-poetry fan, this book was incredibly easy to read and follow. Each poem is written by a different teenager (as portrayed by Helen Frost), but they are all connected. They write about their struggles at home, school, and work in a way that is easy to follow and keeps the reader interested and hanging on for more. I was sucked in immediately by the use of language, conversation, and range of emotion expressed in the different poems. All of the poems are unique to the teenager's character they express, and is consistent throughout the novel.

The use of the open-ended poem to keep the story moving was interesting at first. I thought I would have a hard time keeping the characters straight and their situations in order, but I had no problem at all. The writing is clear, the poems are excellent, and the emotions expressed through them is awesome. An interesting twist that came twice in the novel were the poems from the parents or concerned adults. Their point of view was presented in poetic form as well, and up to that point the reader had only heard the teen point of view. The author's use of Keesha's house as an image to represent safety and acceptance was interesting, considering from all other viewpoints it would be seen as dangerous (the man who owns the house) and unsafe (teens living alone) and illegal. The author touches on the hardships and different scenarios faced by teens, and the impossible struggle they are asked to face - all while giving them a completely unique voice.

Title: Keesha's House
Author: Helen Frost
Genre: Poetry, Printz Honor Title
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
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Review: Kit's Wilderness by David Almond

in a sentence: A story based journey with Kit Watson through the semi-dream/semi-reality experience in his family's hometown during his Grandfather's final times.

The story begins simply enough, with the coming home again to support a Grandfather during the loss of his Grandmother. We journey with Kit as he starts a new school, meets new people, and uncovers a plethora of family history within this small town that goes back hundreds of years. There is a genuine goodness in Kit, and a strong desire to know more that draws the reader to him. The elements in the book range from dark to light, fantasy to reality, and everywhere in between. Emotions run high in both the stories that Kit writes and in his real life relationships with the town.

The blending of reality and fantasy is incredible. The reader becomes blurred in what is really happening and what is not, and therefore puts us right in Kit's shoes. The comic relief of Allie is welcome in this otherwise heavy novel, and is tastefully done. The reader's heart breaks for John Askew and his dark and troubled past. The plot moves swiftly, but takes time to truly develop emotions and situations in a respectful way. The reader is kept in the dark with Kit, and I found myself having "ah-ha" moments at the same time as intended - nothing was revealed a moment too soon. It was gutsy to put a book of this intensity and darkness out there to a young adult audience, but it is done so respectfully and honestly and so genuine. The challenge of blending reality with fantasy is met in this novel, and takes it to a truly higher level of literature.

Title: Kit's Wilderness
Author: David Almond
Genre: Fantasy, Lisa's Faves
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
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Review: The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, Book One) by Philip Pullman

in a sentence or two: Lyra, an outspoken young woman, is growing up in the bowels of a historic university when her whole world changes. Lyra must go on an adventure to search for the mystery of Dust, and is often encouraged by her comrades - a polar bear, gypsies, and her golden compass.

The story starts off in the first pages with sympathetic characters and an intriguing location. Lyra is outspoken, brave, a leader, and has many traits that the reader desires for them self. Her journey towards the mystery behind the kidnappings of children and their relation to Dust introduces more strange characters. While some of these characters are not so loving, the majority of Lyra's companions characters are developed to be compassionate, kind, supportive, and treat her as a peer even though she is so young. The journey is full of ups and downs, and is a bit of an emotional roller coaster for the reader as you travel with her to the unknown, feel her anxiety, and want desperately to be strong like she is through it all. The reader connection with Lyra is easily made, and easily maintained. The ending leaves the reader wanting more, as the first book in a trilogy usually does.

It's incredible how drawn into this story the reader can become. A majority of the tale takes place in the arctic north, and the descriptions of the wind, snow, and cold chill the bones of the reader snuggled up in bed. The connection forged with Lyra is immediate and consistent throughout the novel, and that is largely in part to her nature and to her being the narrator of the story. While the story itself was intriguing and quite a journey, I feel as if the author went off on tangents from time to time in regards to personal interests rather than the story. There is a specific point where Lyra (whom the reader most strongly connects with) is sleeping, and the adults have a conversation. This conversation could have easily been tied into the book to include Lyra (the young adult reader), but was not. The writing is deep, intricate, and calls close attention to detail throughout the novel, so this was especially jarring. There were other points throughout the story where I felt a little bored, or weary of where the story was headed. It definitely picked up in the beginning, parts of the middle, and the end but was by no means consistent. That being said, I am still drawn in enough to read the rest of the series!

Title: The Golden Compass
Author: Philip Pullman
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers 
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